US blueberry harvest is coming up, and blueberry retail prices have risen to a multiyear high for this time of year.
A pint of blueberries was priced for retail at $2.66, as a national average, for the week of June 21, hitting the highest level for that week since 2011 and bucking normally strong downward summer price pressure. Despite expectations for an abundant crop in the US Pacific Northwest, consumer demand continues strong, buoyed by the fruit’s purported health benefits.
Blueberries grow in a number of US regions. The chart on the right shows Oregon, Washington, and Michigan states are the biggest producers. The chart on the left shows average US retail prices rose to $2.66 a pint for the week of June 21, 2019, hitting a multiyear high for that week and bucking normally strong downward summer price pressure. The dark blue line with markers shows the latest year’s prices; previous years are represented with light blue lines.
US domestic production of blueberries was 255,000 tonnes in 2018, three times the 85,000 tonnes produced in 2000. Imports also have soared to meet consumer demand. The US trade deficit in blueberries swelled to 109,000 tonnes in 2016 from a trade surplus of 3,000 tonnes in 2000. Net imports represent 29% of US domestic demand today. Foreign producers are incentivized to expand production. Canada has increased production 49% over the past decade to 160,000 tonnes. Mexican blueberry production is 37,000 tonnes, compared with essentially nothing 10 years earlier.
A number of US states grow blueberries, with Oregon, Washington, and Michigan as the top three sources. Harvesting in these states normally gets underway in July. In recent years, Oregon and Washington have sharply expanded production and are virtually tied as the largest producer. California has joined in, though its output is only about half that of either of its northern neighboring states.
The Oregon Blueberry Commission estimates this year’s crop will rise to a record 136 million pounds, equal to about 62,000 tonnes, from 134 million pounds in 2018.
Georgia, which has a growing season far ahead of other states, has already harvested. Preliminary estimates are for the state to expand last year’s output of 25,000 tonnes by 50% this year.
Helping to fuel the expansion in blueberries is the payoff to farmers. Producer prices more than doubled in the decade through 2007, when they peaked around $1.85 a pound. Production increases, and rising imports, have capped the gains in producer prices, which have ranged between $1.25 and $1.75 per pound in the past decade. Last year, producer prices averaged $1.43 a pound.
US blueberries represent an $840-million industry at the producer level as of 2017, bringing in over $100 million each for Washington, Oregon, California, and Georgia.